If attorney-turned-developer Andy Hellinger acquires the necessary government apporovals, the Mahi Shrine Auditorium on the Miami River would become home to a six-story retail center, hundreds of condos and a promenade on the north bank.

Hellinger has applied for city approval to build the proposed River Landing southwest of the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building. The $150 million, 10-acre project would replace the auditorium at 1500 N.W. North River Drive.

Construction could start in early 2014 and be completed in late 2015. River Landing also would include two 12-story towers with 444 units to be completed in 2016. The mixed-use development features restaurants and shops opening to a landscaped space along a future river walk.

"It will help activate the river, just like the High Line in New York," Hellinger said, referring to a one-mile linear park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad on the lower west side of Manhattan.

The project is being reviewed by Miami planners, and the Miami River Commission, a Miami River watchdog group, is seeking comments.

Hellinger’s Coral Gables-based River Landing Development LLC has had the parcel under contract since late 2011. He declined to disclose the purchase price, but the Mahi Shrine Auditorium was on the market with a price tag of $32 million in 2011.

To keep the contract alive, his company is paying toward the "purchase price every month," he said, adding his company has the right to walk away if it doesn’t obtain city approval.

River Landing is being designed by Miami-based ADD Inc., in collaboration with David Bromstad, host of HGTV’s Color Splash and Design Star.

The buildings would rise at the southern edge of the Health District, home to Jackson Memorial Hospital, the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Miami Dade College Medical Campus and the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the courthouse and the jail. The public and medical buildings employ more than 30,000 people, and the area is visited yearly by about 160,000 patients and thousands of students. The site also is within walking distance of the Miami Marlins baseball stadium across the river.

The retail center would have about 500,000 square feet, said broker Roger LeBlanc, who is handling the leasing.

LeBlanc, a principal with Boca Raton-based Retail Realty Associates, plans to bring a grocery store and restaurants to the ground floor. Junior anchor stores ranging from 20,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet would occupy the second, third and fourth floors, he said. A health club is considering leasing the fifth floor, and furniture stores would occupy the sixth floor.

He said retailers like the site for two reasons. One is its proximity to major roads.

"And it is very difficult for any of these types of tenants to get east," he said.

With River Landing attracting traffic of its own, its garage would not help relieve a parking shortage in the busy courthouse and hospital district.

Light On Retail

Despite the large volume of people in the district, it barely has any shops.

"The Health District is void of retail," Hellinger said. "If you want that area to grow, you need to have the type of retail that will support urban living. Just building apartments or condominiums doesn’t support urban growth at all."

The retail center is being built for retailers similar to the tenants in vertical retail centers like Midtown Miami, Dadeland Station in Kendall and Fifth & Alton in Miami Beach.

Hellinger said national tenants welcome his plans.

"We have more interest in the project than available retail space," he said.

Hellinger said he will develop River Landing with partners but declined to name them. He said the development group would put in nearly $60 million in equity before getting financing.

Miami developer Michael Swerdlow, who built the Dolphin Mall in Doral and is developing a shopping center at North Miami’s Biscayne Landing, could join Hellinger in the venture.

"If Andy needs my help, I will provide it to him in any way I can," he said.

Swerdlow is familiar with the property and called the project "ambitious."

"He has a good piece of land," he said. "He is a smart guy, and if he can get the right tenants, it is going to be a fabulous project."

Swerdlow himself is planning a project along Northwest 14th Street in the heart of the district. He has a site under contract to build a combination of retail and residential uses and plans to close on the property soon.

"We are considering very, very seriously the possibility of a two-story building first followed by another building," he said. The building would bring "some food … some gathering place" to the health district.

"There is nothing to eat except for a couple of Subways in the whole place," Swerdlow said.

The second building could have 270 residential units or be a medical office building.

The University of Miami also is also promoting investment in the area. During the recession, UM leased land to Wexford Science + Technology to build the UM Life Science and Technology Park off I-95 now 75 percent leased, and is planning a second building with some hotel rooms.